Manuel Betancourt

Rachel Getting Married, or How "This is not my family"

October 13, 2008 · in Uncategorized

Rachel Getting Married
Dir. Jonathan Demme
Written by Jenny Lumet
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Mather Zickel and Debra Winger.
The trailer tells us that “This is NOT your family” before correcting itself and pronouncing “This IS your family” – I can thankfully say this is not my family (only Connecticut families could rejoice in a ‘let’s load our dishwasher’ timed-game!) but Demme and his cast make Rachel Getting Married an interesting sociological experiment. When I left the theater I had to ask myself: Do people like this exist? (I don’t mean addicts and dysfunctional families – they’re a dime a dozen; but families and couples that are so self-consciously multi-cultural and folksy while still showcasing their privilege and wealth)
In any case. I don’t usually leave movies asking myself whether what I have just seen could actually happen (that would have made for interesting post-The Dark Knight and post-WALL-E conversations) so instead I can focus on the performances:

Anne is pitch-perfect. She’s annoying, she’s vulnerable, she’s in pain, she’s painful. Long gone is the Princess from those Disney movies. Here we have a broken young woman whose ‘accident’ so many years ago has scarred her more than her pill-addiction could ever have. She’s abrasive, and at times we sympathize with her family for not knowing how to handle her and the film is intent on not wanting to lay the blame on only one side of the family which is why when Rachel’s “I’m pregnant” explodes into a frenzy of joy in the room we kind of understand Kym’s “That is so unfair!”

I fell in love with Rosemarie while watching Mad Men season 1 earlier this year. And here, as the patient, ‘good’ sister she has a character as complex – if not more so – as Kym: in Rachel we have so much desperation, so much self-control that her shoulders are always crunched as if she is expecting ‘Shiva the destroyer’ to ruin her wedding. And yet, you can’t blame her of vilify her for being in so much pain over the loss of her little brother and the frustration of being the only no-nonsense of the family (Hawaii in that light looks like a perfect escape no?) I commend the film for never painting it as a simple Rachel or Kym scenario and it’s a testament to everyone involved, including DeWitt and Anne.

As soon as she came on-screen, the girl behind me (part of a trio of annoying 20-somethings: probably the only ones in my age group in what I described as an audience “as white and old as any McCain rally) had the audacity to say “Oh. I loove her… I love Debra Singer” – I was /this/ close to turning around and correcting her, but instead laughed to myself and wondered how f
ar her knowledge of this Ms Singer went. Anyways, in a small but plot-pivotal role, Ms Winger plays the elusive, aloof and cold Mom. It is the one absolute-like moment of the film: Mommy’s to blame. Or at least a just as unsympathetic: “Mom just wasn’t there … look, she’s not even here now” which I had trouble digesting after Demme and Lumet had crafted such a psychological minefield.
Overall, the film feels like a family visit – at times overlong, at times painfully uncomfortable, at times joyful and hopeful and nostalgic, but always real (how refreshing that de-glamming for Anne means not wearing makeup and not a Theron-like transformation) and when it’s done there are things you rather not have seen/done/heard but you know you’re better for it. A